Grant Hardy on the Annotated Book of Mormon

While there are many excellent books and resources available for the 2024 Book of Mormon “Come, Follow Me” curriculum, one that I have been particularly excited about is the Annotated Book of Mormon. Continuing his excellent work that he started with the Reader’s Edition of the Book of Mormon and the Maxwell Institute Study Edition, Grant Hardy has published a fully annotated version of the Book of Mormon with Oxford University Press, in the style of the New Oxford Annotated Bible. He discussed some of the details of this endeavor in a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

First, Grant Hardy introduced what the Annotated Book of Mormon even is:

The Annotated Book of Mormon is basically the equivalent of an academic study Bible for the Book of Mormon. I have long appreciated good study Bibles, such as the New Oxford Annotated Bible and the HarperCollins Study Bible, which reprint the biblical text with brief explanations at the bottom of every page.

In addition to providing background and insights, the annotations give readers something to look for in most verses, and thus help focus attention on the scriptural text itself. I wondered if something similar might be done for the Book of Mormon. …

Over the course of six years, I wrote about five hundred pages of annotations, which went through six drafts, in addition to the introductions to individual books and the general interest essays that readers expect in study Bibles. Through the entire process, we tried to keep in mind a dual readership: Latter-day Saints who are already familiar with, and religiously invested in the Book of Mormon, and outsiders who may be coming to the Mormon scripture for the first time out of curiosity or scholarly interests. We wanted to make sure we were giving the former audience something new, and the latter audience everything they might need to make sense of the Book of Mormon.

It was a monumental effort to create this version of the Book of Mormon, especially considering the broad audience that was targeted. 

Going in, I wondered what the annotations would even discuss, given that there are no clearly established historical reference points for the figures and peoples described in the Book of Mormon. There are, however, plenty of intertextual and intratextual connections to discuss:

Latter-day Saints and non-members have completely different ideas about the historicity of the Book of Mormon, yet both groups can agree that the Mormon scripture was written to be a companion to the Bible, particularly the King James Bible. This is evident from the Book of Mormon’s archaic diction, narrative style and themes, and pervasive use of phrases from both the Old and New Testaments.

Comparing the Book of Mormon and the Bible is a scholarly endeavor in which believers and outsiders can work together and learn from each other, but the former don’t know the Bible very well, and the latter don’t know the Book of Mormon.

The Annotated Book of Mormon is an attempt to help bridge that gap

Annotations and essays in the Annotated Book of Mormon help with putting Book of Mormon studies and Biblical studies in dialogue with each other. 

An interesting aspect of the ways in which the Book of Mormon interacts with the Bible is highlighted by Hardy: 

The Old Testament and the New Testament tend to talk about salvation in different ways.

In the Hebrew Bible, which focuses on the story of Israel, salvation generally refers to the Lord intervening in human history, in this life, to provide prosperity, protection, land, and posterity to the faithful. God deals with human beings as members of communities, meting out rewards and punishments to entire nations and peoples. Resurrection and the afterlife are hardly ever mentioned. This general outlook can be referred to as “salvation history,” to borrow a term from biblical scholarship.

By contrast, New Testament writers teach that individuals can believe in Christ, repent of their sins through the atonement, accept baptism, and strive to keep the commandments regardless of their ethnicity or place of origin. After they die, each person will be resurrected and judged according to their own actions, before going on to their eternal reward or punishment. …

The Book of Mormon integrates these two modes of salvation in interesting ways. Lehi and Nephi are very familiar with salvation history, and they regularly speak about the destinies of Jews and Gentiles (that is, “the nations”), particularly when they are interpreting Brass Plates prophets such as Isaiah or prophesying themselves about their posterity.

At the same time, they have received new revelations about a coming Messiah who would redeem not just Israel, but be a “Savior of the world” (1 Ne. 10:4). Lehi, Nephi, and Jacob all talk about the last judgment and eternal life. (You may be reminded of the different modes of salvation exemplified in Lehi’s dream of the tree of life at 1 Nephi 8, and Zenos’s allegory of the olive tree at Jacob 5.)

It is useful to think about what these new doctrines might have meant to Lehi’s family, who had been driven from Jerusalem and suffered great losses as a result of salvation history, that is, the collective wickedness of Judah and the resulting Babylonian conquest. It must have given them comfort to realize that they could be blessed for their individual faithfulness—if not in this life then in the next—even while their society was falling apart.

This was a topic he returned to many times in the annotations, since it is an important aspect of how the Book of Mormon bridges the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

What are the ultimate goals of the Annotated Book of Mormon? Grant Hardy shared the following,

I have tried to show everyone—Latter-day Saints and outsiders alike—that the Book of Mormon is better than they think it is. Despite its somewhat awkward diction, there is a fair degree of sophisticated narration, spiritual insight, and coherent thought. It is not perfect, by any means, but there’s more to the book than just a few favorite quotes and stories, along with our constant refrain that it is “another testimony of Jesus Christ.” When we’re dealing with a sacred text, the details matter. … 

To my mind, the Book of Mormon is one of the most impressive aspects of our religious tradition. 

It’s a very thoroughgoing effort on his part to achieve those goals.

For more on the Annotated Book of Mormon, head on over to the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk to read the full interview with Grant Hardy. While you’re there, check out the latest addition to their quotes pages—Joseph Smith quotes about topics like faith, death, and truth.

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